Elaine Silver,
Divine Favorites
(Silver Stream Music, 1999)

I first discovered Elaine Silver when I heard her cover of "Burning Times" by Rumors of the Big Wave. It was an interesting approach to an interesting song, and I looked forward to hearing more. Fortunately, Divine Favorites provides just that, gathering previously released material together with new songs to form a "greatest hits plus" package.

The CD opens with a gorgeous combination of Celtic harp, flute and synthesizer on "Stormwinds," an intriguing song about a feminine archetype. "Sister Moon and Brother Sun" follows, a mellow track about unity, joining delicate vocals and subtle violins. Laurie Riley's Celtic harp returns for "Standing in the Possibility," a strongly written song of relationships and inspiration, but "Let There Be Peace" gains interest only when Silver appears a cappella.

"The Heart of a Woman" changes the tone with a bouncy tune about the feminine divine, highlighted by Larry Campbell's fiddle. "Masters in Disguise" returns to a more somber mood, a bittersweet exploration of relationships, with Campbell's melancholy fiddle, subtle drum work, and the intriguing lines: "There is no giving love / There is no getting love / Only knowing-seeing-being love...." "Open Hearts" provides the well-meant but unfortunately musically insubstantial follow-up.

Silver's playful voice is complimented by a flute on "Half Moon Rising," which provides much light-hearted and enjoyable exploration of new, half and blue moons. "Infinitely Faerie" surfaces next with a graceful arrangement of only hand drums and Silver's multitracked voice, but some may find it difficult to take this song's faerie terminology with any seriousness. It's still a beautiful song, and its respect for nature continues in the straightforward folk of "The Blue and Green."

The new tracks begin with the hand drums of "Walking the Labyrinth," which almost seem to play their way into another tune entirely. It's a solidly written song of traveling to a productive center, but the drums' energy is poorly integrated and ends up seeming almost a distraction. "Angel Orphan" follows, built on subtle electric guitar and French horn. It's a sweeping and beautiful song musically, although the lyrics -- while seemingly heartfelt -- still verge on emotional manipulation and are not recommended for those allergic to the oversweet or overwrought. "The Faerie Pledge" is next, a fine mosaic of hand drums and percussion. Again though, it's a hard song to separate from its faerie philosophy, which like cotton candy may be too sweet to be edible, or at least too full of sugar and air to provide any lasting sustenance. "We Are All One" has a nice piano setting and concertina accents that emphasize the somewhat somber tones of Silver's voice, and "Each of Us/I Rejoice" is the finale, melding fiddle, Silver's melancholy voice, and sweeping backing vocals to carry the CD to a suitable closing note.

Overall, the songs are well fleshed out with backing vocals and skilled instrumental touches, which never betray or overwhelm the essentially folk-based nature of the material, but do add considerable depth and interest. It's a hard balance to strike, but Elaine Silver does it well. Silver's voice itself is enjoyable, but seems to have a limited combination of range and vocal phrasing. After extended listening, monotony can set in, even here in a compilation from several sources. This collection does run over 55 minutes, which can feel too long, especially when the closing material mostly seems like a weaker repetition of what's come before. Still, added tracks on "greatest hits" collections are more often "bonus tracks" than they are the best material the artist has to offer, so this arrangement is not a critical flaw.

In the end, Divine Favorites is an entertaining collection that occasionally rises to greatness. However, though still intrigued by Elaine Silver, I am more inclined to sample one of her early works than to recommend this particular compilation to other potential listeners.

[ by Ken Fasimpaur ]